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McKenzie Intelligence Services3/8/24 1:54 PM11 min read

Inspiring Inclusion at MIS for International Women’s Day 2024

International Women’s Day, part of the wider Women’s History Month, presents a fantastic opportunity to celebrate women across the world and share tales of hard work, overcoming adversity, and the fight for gender equality, where this year’s theme is Inspiring Inclusion.  

With this theme in mind, we are immensely proud to have so many women as part of our leadership team here at MIS. Though we can promote positive examples of inclusion in the workplace, we very much acknowledge that this is not reflective of many lived experiences across wider society. 

There is still a considerable amount of work to be done to ensure that true inclusion can be achieved, where we often see tokenistic gestures surrounding inclusivity that paint a progressive picture on the surface, without making any meaningful systemic change. 

In order to understand, discuss and challenge these issues through the lens of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, we wanted to hear some honest truths from MIS’ female leaders. By tapping into their wide-ranging experiences, we aim to produce an authentic account of what career journeys may be like for women, whether they’ve found the spaces in which to flourish, and what can be done to promote real change, true equality, and ultimately greater inclusivity both now and in the future. 


Making it in a man’s world 

Though we all face many unseen and unexpected challenges throughout our careers, it’s clear that there are many industries and professions that have been fine-tuned throughout history to support patriarchal worldviews and behaviours, which inherently creates significant obstacles for aspiring women seeking to simply be included. 

To thrive in these situations or gain the respect of their male counterparts, many women feel that they must emulate them, where they are forced to hide their authentic selves so they can’t be pinpointed as a weakness in a man’s world.  

This theme was particularly prevalent when hearing from the women in our leadership team, especially when talking about the start of their burgeoning careers. With so much in front of them and anticipation of where their careers could lead, the realisation that this exciting new world they’re stepping into isn’t necessarily built for them, is an unforgiving one. 

Rosina Smith, Chief Product Officer, MIS: “There are plenty of conversations about how important women in insurance are for business performance, team cohesion and talent attraction, yet still there are working practices and behaviours that make the industry unattractive for women. When I began working in insurance, I looked to emulate the behaviours of senior females, but now I realise a lot of what made them ‘fit in’ with seeming ease was that they were emulating the behaviours of their male counterparts and putting a lot of effort into doing so.” 

Emma Dunlop, Co-Founder and Commercial Director, MIS: “I started my career as a Commercial Graduate for Tesco in 2003, working as an Assistant Buyer in the Food division. This was without question a man's world, therefore I was put on negotiation courses and told how to assert myself as a woman, where to be aggressive and use constant bad language was a must to fit in with the men! 90% of my supply base were men and I think being a young woman threw them sometimes as they were used to negotiating with men.” 


Finding spaces to thrive 

Whilst it is unquestionably critical to make every space more inclusive, it is important to recognise that there are many industries and professions which are perceived to be well represented by women. 

It’s within these spaces where inclusivity is becoming the norm, where women have the chance to foster supportive environments for one another, creating positive experiences to reflect on when looking back upon their career journeys.  

This isn’t to say that this completely glosses over the aforementioned issues, but there is some solace to be taken in the fact that there has been progress in certain industries to nurture greater inclusion. 

What’s important from an inclusivity perspective is to recognise this as an outlier, where the goal should be to make this the norm across every industry, knocking down barriers rather than giving women narrow pathways to start and navigate their careers. 

Charlie Robson, People Manager, MIS: “As a female HR leader, I've had the privilege to navigate through a career where it feels women are perhaps more prevalent, yet I remain mindful of the gender-specific obstacles I encountered earlier in my ‘fresh out of uni’ days, particularly in the hospitality industry.” 


Hollow titles and internal perceptions 

Frustratingly, it remains a salient fact that even when women find themselves in leadership positions or areas of a business which are perceived as being more inclusive, many considerable obstacles still stand in their way. 

Women in senior leadership positions still find themselves justifying their position, therefore additional steps must be taken to earn respect and truly contribute to key business activities. 

Emily Nehme, Senior Marketing Manager, MIS: “Not only do women remain underrepresented in key decision-making roles, but for those who have claimed their seat, their voices are still not necessarily being heard. Inspiring female inclusion in leadership is not just about equality, it's about leveraging diverse perspectives and ideas to drive a business forward.”  

There are spaces where inclusivity appears prevalent at first glance, but drill-down into their day-to-day roles and you will find that perspectives and behaviours of the patriarchal persuasion still dominate conversations and job functions. 

There’s also the challenge of how jobs can be perceived as either male or female by organisations internally.  

Professions which are inherently creative, for example, are often perceived as female orientated whereas a job requiring technical prowess and strong analytical skills are associated with male-led roles. 

Rosina Smith, Chief Product Officer, MIS: “Traditionally people think of technical roles as being male dominated, but time and time again I see plenty of women in technical roles. Our technical teams are male dominated still but I think, based on the profile of our recruitment candidates, this is changing.” 

This type of thinking perpetuates untrue and unfair perceptions where an organisation collectively views female-led departments as sub-primary, subsequently resulting in these departments being asked to do work outside their usual remit such as random ad-hoc or administrative tasks, taking away focus from more critical responsibilities.  

On the whole, whilst this may not seem as blatant an issue, it’s enabling these micro-behaviours which remain unchallenged and create an unwelcoming environment for female employees. 

Emily Nehme, Senior Marketing Manager, MIS: “In many of my roles, my team and I have regularly been approached to handle the administrative duties of other departments. This has made me believe that marketing can be undervalued by organisations, which could be chalked off to misunderstanding the capabilities of the function. But I can't help but wonder, is it because we’re marketers or because we’re women?  

Reflecting back on my time at previous organisations, I’ve answered my own question – and it is often the latter. Across many functions, I’ve noticed a trend where female-led teams get tasked with the less important responsibilities, or for lack of better term, the ‘housekeeping’ duties of an organisation. 


What MIS is doing to #InspireInclusion 

At MIS, we are passionate about cultivating a welcoming environment where everyone feels respected, equal to their peers and that their voices are always heard. 

Though we are a smaller business, we take pride in having many strong female leaders and team heads across various functions.  

Whilst female representation in leadership is both a positive and important aspect of how we operate, we know it’s only one piece of the puzzle. To be truly inclusive, we must continue to ensure that these women feel like leaders rather than the token appointments that are still far too prevalent throughout many industries and businesses. 

Rosina Smith, Chief Product Officer, MIS: “Our business does not feel particularly gender-biased, being relatively small and a meritocracy, we’ve managed to create diverse and representative teams. Encouragingly, I see the profile of our clients also changing and almost without realising, I’m now in many meetings where I am not the only woman! 

Charlie Robson, People Manager, MIS: “Currently, my role as a female leader in MIS allows me to leverage my position to promote inclusion actively. While HR is a domain where women are well-represented, I recognise the importance of dismantling barriers and fostering an environment where everyone, regardless of gender, feels valued and empowered. Through mentorship, support networks, and advocating for, and writing, inclusive policies, I strive to create a workplace where every individual can thrive. 

Emily Nehme, Senior Marketing Manager, MIS: “At MIS, I have the pleasure of working alongside some incredible female leaders in a space where inclusion is supported. Everyone’s contribution, regardless of gender, is valued and respected.” 


What can the industry do to #InspireInclusion 

Though strides have been made in recent years, there is still a major lack of female representation in the insurance industry, especially among the key decision-making roles. 

The industry is still a while away from giving women the opportunities to thrive and feeling safe to do so. Though it is encouraging that women have created networks and communities to build one another up, the need for these groups demonstrates the lack of inclusivity in many industries.  

Rosina Smith, Chief Product Officer, MIS: “Despite the conversations, I still do not see insurance really being an industry where women can thrive naturally. As a woman, I do feel welcome in the industry and I know (from sharing conversations with those senior idols at the beginning of my career) this is progress, that before it was a hostile environment. I am a member of Insurtech Women Network and plan to be for as long as they’ll have me – unfortunately I still need a place I can go to talk about ‘being a woman in the industry’, which tells you something about how far there is to go to really have an inclusive industry. 

Can I really be ‘female’ here? Absolutely not, not yet.”  

Emily Nehme, Senior Marketing Manager, MIS:I have valued my experience working with many female leaders but know it is a rarity, particularly in the financial services space. These women have demonstrated that their voice is just as important as their male counterparts. However, the additional effort and sacrifice required to simply sit at the same table as male leaders is blatantly apparent. Whether it’s from being bogged down from irrelevant tasks pawned off on their teams, constantly needing to prove their position and credibility as a leader or navigating the obstacles of maintaining a work-life balance to be there for their families, the burden persists.” 

It isn’t easy for many people to accept that the world they know isn’t the same world for everyone else, where gender imbalances remain rife and behaviours that perpetuate these imbalances remain unchecked.  

However, to inspire inclusion, we must highlight the initiatives that will help fuel the necessary change in the years to come.  

Take Zurich for example, whose focus on offering part-time, flexible roles led to a 95% year-on-year increase in female part-time workers in 2022, where 45% more women were hired into senior roles compared to 2019 (62 to 90). 

This is a powerful initiative that we hope will be picked up by more businesses over the coming years to help promote more inclusion. 

Emma Dunlop, Co-Founder and Commercial Director, MIS: I have 3 kids so having the flexibility to work from home and on flexible hours is key for me and having my own business has facilitated this.  

I am passionate about allowing flexibility in the business. I really hope that anyone who works for MIS knows that they should never miss an important family occasion or their child's sports day or nativity.” 

Charlie Robson, People Manager, MIS: “Looking ahead, I am committed to using my platform to champion inclusivity and support aspiring women leaders. Engaging in initiatives, such as diversity forums and conferences: most recently experiencing a fantastic day at The National Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Workplace Conference 2024, is crucial in cultivating the next generation of leaders. My advice to women aspiring for leadership roles is simple yet powerful: embrace your uniqueness, lean into your strengths, and never underestimate the impact of your voice.” 

There’s still a lot to change, but rather than always focus on the key issues that seem the most obvious through the lens of inclusion, it’s also vital that action is taken to tackle these micro-issues to help make systemic change and correct false perceptions. 

Rosina Smith, Chief Product Officer, MIS: “I think the aspects for women’s inclusivity I’d like to most see develop are on the small day-to-day interactions – recently I’ve seen various posts about ‘why aren’t more women talking on stage?’ – it’s not so much about imposter syndrome, it’s not really about ‘leaning in’ and ‘being confident’ instead it’s about knowing you have a right to be there as much as anyone else. If you’re undermined, feel like an outsider or not supported within your immediate team, it’s going to be pretty difficult to really believe you can be raising up outside on a wider stage. Every single person has a responsibility for inclusivity, and it isn’t just about gender profiles in recruitment, at conferences and at award ceremonies, it’s about the micro behaviours that reenforce an outdated view of the man’s world – from the language used to the empty apologies after someone says the word ‘guys’ to start. 

As we continue to promote inclusion, support is fundamental. Where they can, everyone should use their platform to raise awareness and foster workplace environments that are welcoming and encourage their female employees and leaders to flourish as their authentic selves.